Wine Trivia: What Does 'AVA' Mean?

Staff Writer
What exactly is an AVA anyway?

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

You may have heard the term "AVA" thrown around — "What AVA is that fantastic merlot from?" — but not known exactly what it means. We’re here to explain what an AVA is and what it means for your wine.

AVA stands for American Viticultural Area, and refers to a grape growing region that is unique in its soil, climate, and/or geography. Don’t confuse this with "appellation of origin," which can refer to the AVA, the county, the state, or even the country that the wine is from. The first AVAs were established by the Federal government in 1980 (the very first AVA was in Augusta, Mo.) at the request of winemakers around the country who wanted to distinguish their grape growing areas. Today there are more than 200 AVAs in the United States. AVAs can range in size from miniscule (Cole Ranch in Mendocino County, Calif., is the smallest AVA in the U.S. at just one quarter square mile) to enormous (the Upper Mississippi River Valley AVA is larger than the state of Vermont).

Europe divides and defines its winegrowing regions, too, although European winegrowers must adhere to strict laws about which grapes can be planted where, while American winegrowers are free to plant whatever grape types they want within an AVA. What the U.S. does monitor strictly is what’s in the bottle — for an AVA to be listed on a wine bottle, 85 percent of the grapes in that wine must come from that AVA. So, when you pick up a bottle at the store that says Columbia Valley, Napa Valley, or Finger Lakes, you know that at least 85 percent of the wine in the bottle came from grapes grown in that area.

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